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The Private Sector's Role in Defining Citizenship

By Stan McChrystal, Co-Founder and Partner, McChrystal Group Former Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan

October 28, 2014–Our country would benefit tremendously if all young people served their country – not just in the military, but in all kinds of service. The challenges faced by our nation, and the obvious deterioration of many of the institutions and opportunities that have historically helped buttress citizenship, make this idea more important than ever. It’s a bit about helping with good causes – but it’s very much about helping develop the next generations of Americans.

This ideal has become the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, an initiative that seeks to build upon the strong foundation of national service in America to make a year of full-time national service – a service year – a common opportunity, cultural expectation and new civic rite of passage in America. It’s been amazing to see so many leaders, from all sectors and both sides of the aisle, rally around the idea. We’re lucky to count everyone from Madeline Albright to Condoleezza Rice and Tom Brokaw to Mel Martinez, as members of our leadership council.

What does it mean to be an American? For me, the word “citizen” implies both rights and responsibilities, and I think we’d be better off if we are as focused on the responsibilities piece as much as our rights. There are many great things about the time we’re living in now, but we’re losing one of the things that has made us strong historically: common experiences that bond us and spur us to work together to accomplish things bigger than ourselves.

The solution is a simple, but big, idea. While some people choose to make a career of service in the military or the government, everyone should feel called by their citizenship to serve our country. We should create enough service year opportunities like AmeriCorps, Teach For America and the Peace Corps so all Americans can integrate service into their career paths. Imagine for a moment how different our country could be if twenty years from now, when two people met for the first time, one of the first questions they asked each other was: “Where did you serve?” In an instant those two people, and ultimately our country, would feel connected and a common sense of pride.

As we seek to make the idea of a service year as common as pursuing a university degree or industry credential, there is a tremendous opportunity for the private sector to play a leadership role. Creating hundreds of thousands of new service year opportunities will obviously require financial support, but there are many other ways for companies to leverage their resources and place in society to help co-create this vision. If you think about it for a moment, employers are one of the biggest influencers on how young people organize their lives. Major life decisions are made millions of times across the country everyday with the question, “Will this help me get the type of job I want?” in the back of people’s minds.

Silence from employers on the topic of national service may lead some young people, and their parents, to worry that a service year may put their career off track. Young people are laser focused on developing the skills and experience they think employers want. As employers, we have an opportunity, and in my opinion a responsibility, to communicate not just our expectation for the technical skills we want young people to bring to the table, but also the level of civic involvement our society needs.

We’ve made it easy for employers to take their first steps in supporting this big idea. We worked with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps Alums to create an Employers of National Service initative that President Obama launched at the White House last month. To signal to young people that our companies value national service, employers participating in the initative are making it clear that national service experience is viewed as a plus in the hiring process. I’m proud that my company, the McChrystal Group, alongside others like Comcast, and Disney have stepped up as charter Employers of National Service. Michael Ward, the CEO of CSX, recently summed it up well: “At CSX, we know that people make the difference. National service alumni have the proven ability to get things done, with talent, leadership, and a goal-oriented attitude to the workplace. CSX is proud to be an Employers of National Service, giving opportunities to these talented individuals and bring that leadership to our workforce of tomorrow.” Recent research from UnitedHealth Group also backs up the skills people with service experience bring to the table, namely, better time management skills, colleague relationships, people and teamwork skills and professional job skills.

Participating in this initative will allow employers to increase their impact by influencing more young people to incorporate a service year into their careers, but I believe we’ll also get more mature, talented and committed employees as a result. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

If your company is interested in partnering with the Franklin Project on the Employers of National Service Initative, or in another capacity, please contact MacKenzie Moritz, Associate Director for Strategic Partnerships.